Gun Geekery At Its Finest!

I have an interest in history.  Not so much HISTORY!, the really huge trends and events that change the human conditions on a global scale.  Instead I like the small stuff, the nitty gritty, individuals down in the dirt getting their hands dirty to make things happen.

Considering the nature of this blog, I would like to bring your attention to a video blog called C@Rsenal (pronounced “See-Arsenal”).  It is exhaustively researched, not only tracing the evolution of gun design but also presenting the human side of things.  As there is money to be made in firearms, like there is in any other mechanical tool that may see widespread use, the people involved in designing and marketing the devices tend to have some rather dramatic personality clashes.

Case in point is the episode where the Lewis gun is discussed.

(Picture source.)

For those of you who are not familiar with the design, the Lewis gun is considered by many to be the very best British light machine gun that was used in the first World War.  In fact, it is probably the very best light machine gun used in that war, British or otherwise.  So why did a gun that was developed by extremely patriotic Americans used extensively by the British, and almost completely ignored by the American government?  For that you will have to watch the video.

The first thing you will note is the length of the video.  Close to an hour and a half!  There are movies that aren’t as long!

Well, like I said, it is chock full of detail.  If you find the subject to be interesting, then you are someone who will appreciate the effort made to ferret out all of the details, and bring them to us.  If this just seems boring to you, and I don’t blame anyone who might have that opinion, then please skip the videos for fare that you will find more rewarding.

The episode on the Lewis gun is particularly lengthy, and most of the videos at C@Rsenal are about half the running time.  The authors of the channel are concentrating on arms used during WWI, and it is great resource if you are interested in building a collection of historical arms from that period.

James says check it out!

Signs Of A Misspent Youth

That isn’t a rule book or prepackaged adventure module.  It isn’t even character sheets.  It is the cover for “adventure record sheets”, forms used to keep track of what happened during a dungeon crawl.  You could just do that on a blank piece of paper.

This is how I spent my disposable income before I was old enough to own firearms.  Nowadays I just buy a few boxes of ammo and turn my money into noise down at the range.


A Lot To Feel Good About

I wrote last month about my first experience firing submachine guns.  Long time reader Fruitbat44 was kind enough to leave a comment.

“I have always wondered if the M3, especially the M3A1, was developed to make us Brits feel good about the Sten.”

What is this Sten of which Fruitbat44 speaks?  It is a submachine gun the the United Kingdom developed and fielded during WWII.

(Picture source.)

In the days leading up to the Second World War, the British Empire was not what it once was.  Not a big surprise, as the First World War had pretty much remade the globe so much that nothing was like it once was.  There was also that worldwide economic depression that made it tough to find the cash to modernize the armed forces.

Still, something had to be done.  Germany was doing a pretty good job of rearming, and they made no secret of the fact that they were going to break the Versailles Treaty.  Just about everyone realized that there was going to be a shooting war sooner or later.

The Sten was a marvel of technological simplicity and streamlined design.  Anything that wasn’t needed to make the gun go bang was left off, except for some rather rudimentary sights so the operator could hit the broad side of a barn.  The majority of the gun was assembled from stamped steel parts, with a minimum of welding, so some guy in his basement hobby workshop could make most of the parts in a few hours.  A properly equipped factory could churn them out at seemingly amazing speed.

Built for efficiency and economy, what did one cost?  £2 in 1941, or $10.00 USD.  This is the equivalent of £80 ($130.00 USD) in todays terms.  Consider that the Thompson submachine gun cost $200.00 USD in 1941, or about $3800.00 when adjusted for inflation.  Give me a Sten any day!

Oh, sure, there were some problems with the design, particularly in 1941 when it was first issued to the troops.  But improvements were made, problems were fixed, and the Sten became a reasonably effective weapon by 1942.

Fruitbat44 mentioned the American M3 submachine gun, which was developed precisely because of the success that the Sten enjoyed as a dirt cheap yet effective weapon of war.  But even with the advantage of building from success, the deployment of the M3 was delayed due to constantly changing design specs.  This was such a problem that the M3 was not issued in significant numbers until the last few months of the war.  Such is the desire by engineers to make what is good enough a whole lot better than it needs to be.

Another black mark for the M3 is that the gun never reached the same level of economy as the Sten, costing about $15.00 USD for each gun.  Keep in mind that the United States was the home of vast automotive factories, some of which produced the M3, yet it was still  more expensive than the British version of an expedient submachine gun.

There is nothing to feel bad about when it comes to the Sten.  It filed the role for which it was intended better than any other mass produced submachine gun during WWII.

“What Was It Like Shooting Full Auto For The First Time?”

It was a lot like this.

(Click pic for animation.)

The first fully automatic firearm I ever put through it’s paces was an M3 Grease Gun.

Found the pic at this truly excellent article about the firearm at  Click that mouse if you want the lowdown on the design.

How was it?  Amazing!  Slow rate of fire, easily controllable, just a blast to shoot.  Not particularly accurate, but it is a submachine gun!  And an old one at that!

What was my second full auto experience?  The same gentleman who owned the M3 stepped back from the shooting bench and let me try my hand with his Uzi.

Another old gun.  This one had been manufactured about 1960 or so, and had the wooden stock instead of the folding wire stock.  Don’t ask me where he had gotten his hands on it.

So how was it?  After the M3 it was kind of meh, actually.  Can’t really say why.  It was more accurate than the M3, significantly so, and had a faster cyclic rate.

Maybe that was why I wasn’t too keen.  The Uzi burned through the magazine faster, so I had less fun time before running out of gun food.

“What Is It With The .25 ACP, Anyway?”

I was recently asked the question that became the title for this post.  Just to set the tone …

“What is it about the .25 ACP, anyway?”

What did they mean?  Mainly they were wondering why such a puny cartridge could be considered a self defense round for more than a century.  Isn’t the .25 ACP an under powered, under performing example of a waste of time?  Too small to hunt even small game like squirrels, and yet it is supposed to be proof against an enraged criminal?

Well, they have a point.  The .22 Long Rifle round is considered to be perfect for small game like rabbits, and it is decidedly superior in ballistics when compared to the .25 ACP.  Here is the ballistic info for the .25 and the .22 as taken from the Winchester ammunition online page.

.25 ACP = 64 ft/lbs muzzle energy

.22 LR = 80 ft/lbs muzzle energy

(Yes, I notice that the Winchester page lists the .22 Long Rifle round as having more energy and velocity at 100 yards than at the muzzle.  Don’t ask me why, I didn’t write it.  If I had, it probably would have been right!)

This seems counter intuitive to most as the .25 ACP has a larger and heavier bullet than the .22 Long Rifle.  But, larger and heavier aside, it is also moving slower.  It doesn’t help matters any that the barrels that are usually used to shoot the .25 ACP are most often rather short.

That is where the great advantage of the round comes in to play.  It is so small and under powered that really small guns can be made which employs the round.  And by small I mean teensy-tiny, itsy-bitsy, virtually doll sized.

Did I mention the guns are really, really small?  Because that is the only actual advantage to this caliber.  It is perfect as an emergency arm that can be tucked away in some unobtrusive place, unnoticed and unseen.  People who are concerned about carrying guns that are almost impossible to spot call this “deep concealment”, and it is the only advantage small autos chambered for the .25 ACP have over other guns.

Oh, wait, did I say that small size is the ONLY advantage?  Because there is another, and that is cost.  As long as one is not concerned about durability, a .25 auto can be had pretty cheap.  When I was working for the police way back when, these sort of firearms were informally referred to as “pimp guns” by the uniformed officers because it seems that people in that profession always had one when they were arrested.

This is certainly due to their minuscule sticker price.  Even if some street level criminal lost the gun when frisked during the arrest, what of it?  A brand new, factory fresh gun can be had for a bit more than $100.00 USD today, maybe even less if it was stolen.  They could probably replace the loss a few minutes after being released on bail.  It is as close to a disposable firearm there is!

So where did the round come from?  The .25 ACP was developed by legendary American gun designer John Moses Browning.

(Picture source.)

I can’t say for sure as to his motivation, but it seems to me that it was a project he undertook just to discover how small he could build a semi-automatic handgun that had similar ballistics to the .22 Long Rifle cartridge.  As one can see by glancing at the Winchester data he didn’t really achieve what he was going for, as the .25 ACP is about 20% weaker than the .22 Long Rifle.

Even so, he managed to create something that the public wanted to buy.  In Europe, where small under powered guns were always popular, sales were pretty respectable with the introduction of the FN M1905.  In the United States, where large caliber revolvers ruled, it took a bit longer before gun manufacturing behemoth Colt took notice.  They started marketing almost the exact same design as the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket, and you can read a very good article about the gun right here.

One of the things the author of the linked article touches upon is why the public wanted to buy such a puny, anemic, inadequate gun in such numbers.  I think a good part of the appeal was that the gun was seen as science fiction come to life.

Wait, did I say “science fiction“?  But autoloading firearms have been around for, like, forever!  What is so special about another one, even one so small?

To answer that question we have to go back a bit, back even before the 20th Century got started.

The very first commercially successful automatic pistol is the Borchardt C-93.

Originally offered in 1894 it was an incredible and amazing advance for the day, evoking the Victorian ideals of progress and mechanical technology that could solve any problem.  The gun would not look out of place on the hip of a steampunk explorer.

I mentioned that the Borchardt was the first commercially successful automatic handgun, but only a bit more then 3,000 were ever produced.  A success, sure, but not a huge success. Most people at the time looked at the C-93 as a fad, something where only early adopters would be spending money.  And that was a pretty fair assessment of the gun, actually.

A few years later the German firearms manufacturer Mauser started selling their C96, otherwise known as the Broomhandle Mauser.  It is a gun whose outline is instantly recognizable to just about anyone who has even a passing interest in firearm design.

Whereas the Borchardt sold a little more than 3,000 units, Mauser manufactured over one million!  Firearm firms in other countries, most notably in Spain and China, made a fair bit of coin churning out uncounted copies of the design.  The Borchardt might be seen as a success, the Broomhandle Mauser was a monster hit!  All of a sudden, it didn’t seem so outlandish an idea to rely on automatic handguns for defense.

The C96 really didn’t fit well with American ideas of what makes a good handgun, but good old John Moses Browning stepped up with the FN M1900.  This was the first production handgun which used a slide.

(Picture source.)

(Picture source.)

This was also enormously popular.  Production for the gun ceased in the West after a mere 11 years, but about 700,000 were produced in that time.

So the beginning of the 20th Century saw a vast array of automatic handguns hitting the market.  New designs, new cartridges, new ways of doing things.  The future had arrived like a thunderclap!

Small guns chambered for the .25 ACP were kind of swept along by this enthusiastic tide.  Fabrique Nationale first started selling the gun in 1906, before any major military force had made the wholehearted change from revolvers to automatic handguns.  People who bought .25’s seemed to be enthralled by the increased firepower that autoloaders had over wheelguns.  It didn’t seem to matter if an effective caliber was employed if one could pepper their attacker with multiple shots, and when empty slap a fresh magazine in the gun and keep shooting.

Oddly enough, the French started to issue handguns chambered for the .25 ACP to their police in the years before WWI.  Known as the Melior 6.35, it was usually seen in the hands of back country gendarmes where serious shoot outs with dangerous criminals were extremely unlikely.

I don’t have much information on the gun or the manufacturer, but it appeared to be an experiment on the effectiveness of autoloaders in the hands of the police.  An experiment which failed, as the police in France were typically issued revolvers until some time after 1990.

Okay, so that is peace time.  Did .25 autos play any major role in the world wars?  Not exactly, although they were around.

.25’s were extremely popular in the trenches of World War I.

The idea seemed to be that it was perfect if one was captured by the enemy.  As the gun was so small that it was unlikely to be found during a casual search, it would be ready at hand when the time came to stage a prison break.  So far as I have been able to determine this never actually happened, although I’m sure that someone got shot by a .25 some time during that terrible conflict.  After all, soldiers were arming themselves with makeshift clubs they made out of whatever was lying around so they could bash in the head of the enemy when invading a trench.

It just seems incredible that someone, somewhere didn’t try shooting someone with whatever they had at hand.  Even if it was a puny, underpowered .25 auto.

The .25 ACP survived pretty much intact through WWI and WWII, filling that unique niche as being the smallest widely available autoloading pistol.  People still bought them for defense, and it was probably a Godsend for those who had little money and lived in crime infested neighborhoods.  After all, it was a great deal better than nothing at all!

And that is why they are still manufactured and purchased today.  It is either because someone needs a really tiny gun, or because someone can’t afford something better.

That would pretty much be it so far as the lowly .25 ACP is concerned, but there is one side note that I should mention.  Back in the 1950’s or 1960’s, an Italian named Lercker designed and built a machine pistol chambered for the .25 ACP cartridge.

What is a machine pistol?  It is a handgun that shoots like a machine gun.  Full auto!  BBRRAAPP!!!

(Click pic for animation.)

There isn’t a great deal of information about this gun, except that the Italian police confiscated all of them but for one or two that are in museums.  You can find an article about the Lercker at the excellent Forgotten Weapons website.  Worth your time to click the link and give it a read.

To wrap this up, one may ask if I ever recommended a .25 auto to one of my students.  The answer is that I did not, but I wouldn’t actively try to discourage them if they chose one for defense.  As all of my students were extremely poor, I realized that it was the best that a lot of them could do.

A Bit Too Spicy For Their Tastes

There is an American fast food restaurant named Taco Bell, which is known for Tex-Mex themed comfort food sold at a good price.

A recent news article in the New York Post reports that a late night armed robbery at a Taco Bell in Cleveland, Ohio went very badly for the erstwhile stick up artists when three of the five employees working the midnight shift were armed.  One robber was left at the scene, gasping his last, while the others beat a hasty retreat.

Police say that no arrests were made of the fast food wage slaves, which is as it should be.